Order the Book          Order the Large Print Version of the Book       Return to Main Page

(Newspaper clipping)

Maysville Gets New Police Chief
Maysville, Virginia - August 1, 2000 

By Mary Johnson
May County Chronicle Staff Writer 

                Mayor Phillip Marston officially announced today Maysville has a new police chief.  He is former New York City Detective First Grade Richard A. Harris, 49.  Harris actually took the Maysville chief’s job in earlier in the year when he began a lead undercover role in the much publicized investigation of a local dog fighting ring.  217 people from all over the United States were arrested in a raid on a large dog fight, July 5, 2000, held on a farm in the county outside Maysville. 

                Of the group, six were already wanted on federal and state warrants for crimes allegedly committed all over the country.  One of the men, Amos Greenway, 38, was wanted for Murder for Hire in Georgia. 
                Some of those arrested have already pleaded guilty and been fined.  Trials for the others are expected to begin in November.

                 Harris, a 26 year veteran of the New York City Police Department, was twice awarded the department’s highest decoration, the Medal of Valor.  The most recent medal was awarded for his role in a drug arrest on New Year’s Eve of the Millennium.  Although his partner had been killed, and he was seriously wounded, Harris managed to shoot and kill a wanted drug dealer in a furious gun battle on a city street.

                The job of Maysville Police Chief has been vacant since long time Chief Wesley Barnett, 68, died suddenly of a heart attack last March. 

                “Maysville is growing,” Mayor Marston said.  “Policing the new mall is going to be a major undertaking for our small police department.  The city council decided we needed to find the most experienced law enforcement officer we could get to head up this new effort.  Chief Harris is the prefect choice for this important job.”  All 142 stores in the new regional mall are expected to be open by Thanksgiving 2001.

                Chief Harris and his wife, Dr. Sandra Harris, have already moved to town.  Dr. Harris, a former professor at Columbia University in New York City, is hard at work on a book about Susan B. Anthony and the other early leaders of the America women’s movement.

                A reception, where local citizens are encouraged to come meet the couple, is planned in connection with the next town council meeting to be held on August 11 at 7:00 p.m. at the Town Hall in Maysville.  Everyone is invited to attend.

Chapter One 

               The problems of the world became all too personal on that warm September Friday.  Just three days after the planes flew into the World Trade Center in New York the terror hit home.  The day was more like Spring than Fall in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Every living thing close around us was a deep, rich green.  But due to some trick of light refraction the distant green mountains appeared to be a deep blue. I pointed this out to my wife Sandra.  “Probably why they’re called the Blue Ridge,” she said.  The white cumulus clouds against the deep blue sky looked like the huge backlit ad for Kodachrome film they used to have in Grand Central Station.  The colors were much too vivid to be real.  Confused flowers were blooming again thinking summer was coming instead of snow.  It was the kind of day that reminded me how lucky I was to be alive.

               Sandra and I were driving on a winding two lane country road which appeared unchanged since her 1966 Mustang convertible rolled off the assembly line.  Driving this car it was easy to pretend we were still the teenagers we’d been when it was new.  I often teased Sandra we should park and fool around.  We wouldn’t get into trouble.  Any noisy cop who shined his flashlight into the car window would be working for me. 

              My name is Rick Harris and I’m the Chief of Police in the little town of Maysville, Virginia.  The town is located in the middle of the Shenandoah Valley.  There is a comfortable cushion of rural life between us and the scattered cities in this part of the state.  The population in and around the town is 15,000 give or take.  It is a quiet, comfortable place, usually isolated from most of the problems of the world.  If a kid busts three mailboxes it’s a crime wave, our small town version of “drivebys.”  We know, and like, our neighbors.  My wife pretends the town is Mayberry and I’m Andy Taylor.  She is very naïve.  I have been working at becoming more naive myself.

                We’ve been through a lot in the past couple of years and pretending has become extremely important to us.  We both nearly lost our lives and, more important to me, we nearly lost each other.  One of the things we pretend is we’re sure we will both be alive tomorrow morning.

               But I’m not really a pretending sort of a guy.  I know what’s out there.  Before coming here I’d been what I often call without thinking, “a real cop.”  I’d spent nearly 25 years on the NYPD.  “The Job,” as its members modestly call it, before losing a gun fight in the street on the eve of the new millennium.  Technically, I suppose I won the gun fight.  The other guy is dead and I’m not.

                But I’d come within a few centimeters of becoming a Jeopardy question.  “History for ten, Alex”. “The answer is ‘Rick Harris’.”  “Who was the last cop killed in the twentieth century?”  “Correct.  You have control of the board.”

                I’ll tell you about all that and more about Sandra and me later.  But first, let me tell you what happened that incredible September afternoon.

                Sandra and I had been to lunch at a barbeque place called Bubba’s located a few miles outside of town.  We have both taken to southern cooking with the zeal of television evangelists and eat there much more often than is healthy.  Everything they serve is dripping in a delicious, artery clogging sauce.

               For the past three days we’d been like everyone else in America:  zombies, unable, or at least unwilling to take our eyes from the news on television.  Prior to seeing it with our own eyes neither of us could have even imagined the horror we, and the rest of the country, had witnessed.  September 11, 2001 was a day, like November 22, 1963, no American will ever forget.

              I’d gone through the motions of making sure the crossing guards were at the schools, but that was the extent of my law enforcement efforts in Maysville. Fortunately the local miscreants were also preoccupied with what had happened.  They were apparently also glued to their television sets.  There had been no real crime in Maysville since Tuesday morning when the airplanes deliberately flew into the buildings many miles from here.  There is never much crime in town.  But even the drunks and spousal abusers seemed to be preoccupied, not leaving their television sets even to go out for booze. 

            Before moving here Sandra and I had lived less than a mile from “Ground Zero” in New York City.  One of my last NYPD collars had been a dope dealer in the subway under the World Trade Center.  Sandra and I ate at the Windows on the World restaurant our last day living in the city to take a final look at what we were leaving.  We had happily abandoned the city that never sleeps for a town that never seems to come completely awake.  Now a major piece of the city is gone.  Surprisingly, I had not known any of the cops who were killed doing “The Job” as I would have been doing that day were I still on the force.

           My father had been a New York City firefighter but he was retired even before the first attack on the World Trade Center in the early nineties.  He’s gone now, having died peacefully in his bed an old man. 

           Having been in New York City in the 1990s I shouldn’t have been surprised at the attack.  We saw plenty of terrorist activity then.  Many people seem to have forgotten the first, February 1993, attack on the World Trade Center.  Four Middle Eastern terrorists set off a bomb in a parking garage under the North Tower.  The damage to the building was minor considering what could have happened.  Six people eating lunch in a cafeteria directly above the bomb were killed.  When the mastermind of the plot, Ramzi Yousef, was later being brought back from Pakistan for trial he told a Fed guarding him the group had believed the bomb would cause Tower One to topple, hit Tower Two and bring them both down.  Yousef boasted the group had hoped to kill a quarter of a million people in the instant after the explosion. 

            The possibility of this happening had been downplayed by officials.  The public had been assured nothing could bring down the twin towers.  I wasn’t directly involved in the investigation but several of my friends were.  Cops talk to each other.  Engineers who had studied the bomb site had written reports saying had the bomb been a little bigger and placed in a slightly different position it could have brought the towers down just like one of those building demolitions they show on television.  A half dozen of the participants in the plot were arrested, tried, and sent to prison.

            But even before those guys were all caught there was another plot in June of that year to blow up the United Nations building, tunnels under the Hudson River and a federal government office building in Manhattan.  Eight more militant Muslim fundamentalists were arrested, and later convicted, in this plot.

            While Yousef was in the wind following the first World Trade Center attack he went to the Philippines.  There he was involved in a plot to kill the Pope during a planned visit.  He also was involved in a plot to blow up eleven American airliners within a forty eight hour period.  This horrendous disaster was avoided completely by chance.  Yousef was experimenting with explosives in a Manila apartment when he did something wrong.  Unfortunately he didn’t blow himself up but he did literally smoke himself out of the building.  He left behind a laptop computer which contained plans for the highjackings.  America had been very lucky, but even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while.  Given enough chances even the most incompetent terrorists eventually succeed.

                But terrorism seemed far removed from this beautiful day in rural Virginia.  It was an incredible day for September, the convertible top was down and we promised ourselves we were going to get our lives back to normal.  While I was lying in the hospital after being shot in New York the previous year, with tubes coming out of every possible opening, Sandra asked me what I would change about my life if I could.  I told her truthfully, “Nothing, if I didn’t end up with you holding my hand.  Everything, if it means being with you.”  I meant it then and I believe it now.

                It had been eerily different at Bubba’s that day.  The large gray shack of a building was as crowded as usual but the crowd was quiet, subdued.  Bubba’s wife Big Mary greeted us cheerily from her high stool behind the cash register as she always does.  Big Mary is a tiny woman.  The “Big” before her name is to distinguish her from her daughter “Little Mary,” a pretty high school senior, who works in the restaurant on Saturdays.  “Little Mary” is taller than “Big Mary”.  Although this is confusing to me it appears to be a local custom.

                The television high on the wall in the corner was tuned to CNN instead of “All My Children” as it usually was.  People nodded but didn’t come over to talk.  Everyone seemed to be deep into their own thoughts.  Only the rich smell of cooking pork seemed to be the same.  Sandra and I deliberately took seats with our backs to the television set.

                The folks in the kitchen had apparently not been distracted by world events.  The succulent platters of dripping slow cooked meat piled high with thin fries and fat onion rings were still nearly impossible to balance on the trays.  Huge cups of syrupy sweet tea or freshly squeezed lemonade were served with the food.  The cups were constantly refilled by Bubba himself moving through the room with a pitcher in each hand.  Nothing in New York City was ever like this.  No food anywhere else had ever tasted this good.  And lunch for the two of us was less than ten dollars.

                After eating too much as usual we started driving back toward Maysville.  On the way home we discussed the urgent need to finally get the Nordictrak unpacked and start using it.  We had discussed this so many times before.  I had even gotten as far as moving the box to the front of the garage.  I didn’t light the after lunch cigarette I would have had if Sandra were not with me. 

                I slowed down as we drove past the home of the mother of a local dirtbag who owed many thousands of dollars in child support.  He was number one on my personal most wanted list.  Sooner or later someone in the department would see him.  And bust him.  This is how police work really goes, slow but thorough.   This case is not in the least important to the world but vital to his ex-wife and three small children.  In New York the cops concentrate on locking up the bad folks.  In Maysville we concentrate on helping the good ones.

               The speed limit was 35 and I was going about 30 when the black Lincoln Town Car slammed on its breaks behind me starting a deadly skid. It must have been going at least a hundred miles per hour.  Had I not stomped on the gas, and the powerful old engine not responded instantly we would have been rear ended and probably killed. 

                Before I could find a place to pull over and stop, the Lincoln straightened up and came after us.  At first I assumed it would fly by us and had my cell phone in my hand to call the Maysville police dispatcher.  No one was going through my town this fast.

                I don’t know if it was the cell phone, and the driver’s realization I was probably calling the police, that further enraged him but I quickly realized he was going to ram my wife’s prize possession unless I could out run him.  Actually I was assuming “he” since I couldn’t see who was behind the car’s dark tinted windows.  The Mustang was over 35 years old but had been a hot rod in its day.  If the engine didn’t quit or one of the old, historically accurate bias type tires didn’t blow we would have a chance. It seemed “road rage” had come to Maysville. I tossed the cell phone into my surprised wife’s lap.

                The black Lincoln filled my mirror.  It was so close I couldn’t see the huge car’s front tag.  We were going nearly 100 miles per hour in an instant.  There was nothing I could do but try to stay in front of him on the winding two lane country road.

                Holding the wheel with my left hand I pulled my little Italian .380 pistol from my pants pocket and stuck it between my right leg and the seat.  It had been too warm for a jacket so my “real gun”, a heavy 9mm pistol and shoulder rig were locked in the trunk of my cop car sitting in our driveway at home.  There was no way I could even get off a shot while trying to drive at this speed.  I didn’t know what use the little gun, designed more to hide than shoot, would be, but it was all I had.  I realized my wife and I might both die because of our naïve belief in Andy Taylor’s theory of being a gunless cop.  But there was no time to dwell on it.

                By now Sandra had the Maysville dispatcher on the cell phone and was repeating the instructions I was yelling to her over the wind.  I was asking for marked units to intercept us before we got into the little town itself. The elementary school on Main Street would be letting out soon, and I was not going to allow anyone to go into my town at this speed.

                After a long couple of minutes of being able to stay just far enough in front of the Lincoln not to be rammed I saw a state trooper’s car coming out of a side road on the left.  It pulled in behind the Lincoln, blue lights flashing and siren screaming.  I tried to slow down hoping the Lincoln would pull around me in an attempt to get away from the trooper.  But he bumped me instead of trying to pass. I sped up again.

                The trooper pulled beside the Lincoln now but it still refused to stop.  Had I been alone in a cop car, instead of in an antique with a civilian, the trooper and I would have both slowed down until we stopped the Lincoln.  But it was not going to be that easy.  I prayed we wouldn’t meet any traffic coming the other way.  Visions of a school bus loaded with children filled my head.

                Sandra was still on the cell phone with the dispatcher.  I told her to tell the dispatcher to tell the trooper I would floor it when we came to the flat straight by Finley’s Farm and he should hit the Lincoln in the side, hopefully making him wreck before we got into town.  We were at the straight before I had time to get an answer.  I didn’t look at the speedometer but I could feel the Mustang’s ancient but mighty engine push the car even faster forward when I floored the accelerator.  Good old American muscle cars! 

                In the mirror I saw the gap widen between us and the Lincoln for just an instant.  Then I saw, and heard, the trooper hit the speeding car.  The cop car was smaller, but physics favors the bumper rather than the bumped.  The Lincoln wobbled in the road behind me for a split second before careening off the right shoulder, flying clear over a ditch, and finally landing in a field of corn stalks.  Amazingly the big car stayed on its wheels as it plowed through the field parallel to the road until it could go no further.

               By the time I got stopped, turned around and back to the shoulder of the road near where the car had flown off, the trooper was making his way across the field to the smashed up Lincoln.  After ordering Sandra to move the Mustang further down the road and stay with it, I made my way down the bank and toward the car clutching my toy gun in my hand. 

               I was still way out of my effective pistol range when the driver’s door of the Lincoln popped open and a man came out shooting.  His first shot hit the trooper in the chest.  He went down hard.

               Hopefully, for both our sakes, he was wearing his vest despite the heat of the day.  The Lincoln driver probably knew about the vest too.  He was taking slow, careful aim at what I assumed was the trooper’s head.  Everything was happening in slow motion.  I remember thinking the driver looked like the photos I had seen of Ramzi Yousef.  This was not a comforting observation.

               Before he could fire at the trooper again, I screamed something to get his attention and let loose all seven rounds from my pistol in his direction.  I knew I didn’t have a prayer of hitting him.  And I knew I didn’t have any more bullets.  It wasn’t the smart thing to do, but it was the only thing I could do.

               I had bet my life, and Sandra’s, on the trooper being able to recover and shoot the guy.  It seemed to be working at least for the moment.  The Lincoln driver was looking at me now instead of at the trooper on the ground.  His gun was coming around in my direction.  He must have realized I was out of bullets, and he was taking slow, careful aim with his pistol to kill me.  He was also starting to smile.

              Just then the trooper fired from his knees hitting the man twice in the chest.  He wasn’t wearing a vest.  He went down in a heap like one of those huge balloons when it is punctured.  I had seen men go down like this before.  I knew the driver of the Lincoln was dead before he hit the ground.

              He was a slight young man, almost delicate, probably in his twenties, with a swarthy complexion.  I might have thought he was Hispanic until a few days before.  He lay on his back, his dead eyes staring at the sun.
              I had been right assuming the driver of the Lincoln was a man.  But to my surprise the trooper was a petite young blond woman with her short hair tucked under her hat.  She was standing there holding her smoking pistol with a blank look on her face.  I was sure this was the first man she’d been forced to kill.  I had previously killed three, and it doesn’t get any easier.

              Ignoring my orders, as usual, Sandra came running down the bank and grabbed me in a bear hug leaving the trooper, gun ready, to look inside the wrecked Lincoln.  I watched over my wife’s shoulder still holding my empty pistol. There was no one else in the car. 

             The trunk lid was ajar from the crash.  The trooper moved around to the back of the car and lifted the lid with her gun barrel.
             “Chief,” she said in a surprisingly steady voice, “you might want to take a look at this.”

              As I walked to the rear of the wrecked car I was surprised to see two of my shots had actually hit the car.  The little dents looked more like hail damage than bullet holes.  I looked into the open trunk and saw a green cloth bound book and a bunch of documents which appeared to be written in Arabic.  There was also a cardboard box which had broken open in the crash.  A large pile of hundred dollar bills was spread all over the carpeted trunk.  The young man still lay dead on the ground beside the wrecked car. 

              Before last Tuesday I don’t know what I would have thought of this.  But since that awful day every cop in America was looking under the bed for terrorists.  I seemed to have found one.  He might turn out to be an apolitical dope dealer but anybody with a gun and papers in Arabic would be assumed to be a terrorist until it was proven otherwise. 

              I was the ranking police officer on the scene.  I knew important things needed to be done immediately, people needed to be notified.  Elaborate traps needed to be set to catch the other terrorists I was certain were still out there. He was taking the cash to someone.  Time was of the essence!  I needed to do many important things immediately.

              But I didn’t have a clue what I should do to start the wheels rolling. I was sure we were all in deep, deep trouble and, in this situation, pretending otherwise would not help at all.  This was way beyond my, and Andy Taylor’s, experience.

              I was standing there with my cell phone in my hand wondering whom to call when I heard the screaming sirens of the approaching cop cars.  The rest of the cavalry was arriving, too late as usual.

Order the Book          Order the Large Print Version of the Book       Return to Main Page